Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore by Lance Parkin

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Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore by Lance Parkin

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Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Compelling in its level of detail, this book shows us why Alan Moore is held in such high esteem – and deserves nothing less itself.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Aurum Press
ISBN: 9781781310779

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I don't think that I ever saw Alan Moore when I lived in Northampton, and I don't think I coincided with the publication of Maxwell the Magic Cat in the local newspaper. So I missed out on the memorable frame of someone else who is six foot two, albeit a generation older and looking so hirsute he would seem to be afraid of scissors. But I certainly would not have been alone in not recognising him for what he is. How many Northampton housewives flicked past the daily panels of Maxwell in complete ignorance of who Alan Moore actually is? – With no idea that the years he spent drawing that cartoon for £10 a week – later to be £12.50 – were just him gearing up to be the biggest man of letters in the comic book world?

The details there of the recognisable Moore, of the permanent Northampton connection, and the trivia about his pay rise, are all indicative of the man and his biography. For a writer noted for lengthy tomes, this is a lengthy one itself. It's incredibly detailed, and one's mind boggles when you realise how much longer it might be if the author had actually held brand new interviews with his subject. But just as the size and hairiness of Moore are synonymous with his position in comix, so his huge output and immense popularity force Parkin into such an undertaking. Moore spends years researching and writing everything – it's only fair others have to.

For a book that could sit so easily in academia it's a little funny to see such a loose structure and devil-may-care attitude. The short introduction should surely be a background to why Moore is so important, but it delves into a reading by a scholar of Moore's feminist principles, or lack thereof. We build up a head of steam regarding Moore's history – both in his Northampton council houses and in his career – only to drift happily into a discussion of his legendary writing processes. By the time we drift away again, later on, to discuss what happened when Hollywood came calling, we come back to find that a lot of the recent books have not been mentioned, or if so only once. Still, Moore readers are used to circuitous, fractured narratives.

There are also some times when Parkin shows quite unscholarly uses of logic. A couple of times at least he says something along the lines of 'you would have to forgive anybody if they saw/read/thought A and assumed B', only to prove two pages later that B is in fact completely true. You could also say he is too close to his subject – talk of arcane public performances from the more magic-oriented man Moore has developed into, where the audience was surprisingly small suggests he was the only one there who could remember it in much detail. He describes the unfinished second novel Moore is writing, teasingly for those who want the housebrick-sized undertaking if it ever sees light of day.

There is also perhaps a case to be had for opening out the story a bit and putting more things in context. Parkin draws short lines between Moore and his contemporaries – Moore went doolally with drugs and saw snake gods, Grant Morrison went doolally with drugs and hedonism and talked to aliens; Moore fell out with everyone, in much the same way Neil Gaiman will never shake hands with Todd McFarlane ever again; but those lines to the wider world could have been longer.

So why does this book get, and deserve, five stars? Simply because it is definitive. Call it forensic, call it ferocious in its fullness. Call it better than anything Alan Moore ever produced. Even if it's cobbled from a thousand articles and interviews, it really goes the whole hog in defining Alan Moore. All the minutiae are there of the contract negotiations regarding this, the problematic completion of that, the beef with one of countless collaborators, or editors, or publishing departments. Fandom is rife with knowledge of Moore's character, and his history in producing graphic novels – and that's only natural considering how much they sold, and still continue to do so. But I defy any fan to not gain a host of knowledge and insight from these pages.

It is completist, and yet it never once approaches being overbearing. It is a book that deserves its level of introspection and intimacy with its subject. What's more, if there was any doubt remaining about whether Moore justified this treatment – and it has to be said I have a rampant ability to see his output as on one hand good, on the other definitely over-rated – this smashes that doubt. Parkin shows consummate knowledge of his subject, and the end result of it all is that you do see how vital to modern publishing Moore is, and therefore how essential this book is to everyone vaguely interested in comics. It looks great, with clever use of gloss on the cover, and a shiny obi, and whatever appears wrong with it, you can begrudge it nothing. Brilliant.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The best look at the wider world of graphic novels is Supergods by the aforementioned Grant Morrison.

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Booklists.jpg Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore by Lance Parkin is in the Top Ten Autobiographies and Biographies of 2013.


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